Friday, July 22, 2016

What to Charge for a Drum Circle? – Rates Pricing & Venues

So what is the current average price drum circle facilitators charge for providing all the drums, percussion, and facilitating a drum circle? The short answer? 300 bucks, (one person facilitating, and for under 100 people). And that’s doing it on the cheap. There really is no set pricing scale, it’s where you live, what the market, current economy will bear, and what groups can afford.

Many of us use a sliding scale for pricing. Anywhere from $100 to $600 depending on for who, how long, how many, and how far away. Most of us will do a few no charge charity circles a year. I try to do at least 2 or 3, but we have to at least try to cover our expenses. There are others who won't even negotiate with you for under $500 for an hour circle. Then there are the ones that jet into town from out of state with a few large tubs of drums and get $5000 for two 1 hour circles. Most of them are backed by brands, and have national exposure. That doesn't necessarily mean they are better, a regional facilitator with at least 10 years experience will give you an excellent music making drum circle experience at a much lower price. So there is no real set pricing, or specific protocols that need to be followed.

I was able to determine the going rates to charge mainly because of my drum circle finder. I have been updating it for 16 years, and in the process communicated with a lot of facilitators or hosts. Over the course of updating it I often saw rates in different areas, and many times spoke or emailed with the organizers.

When you do book and confirm a gig, I get half the cost at least 2 weeks in advance, and collect the balance when I arrive to do the job, or I ask for or the entire amount at booking. I used to just ask for a check when I arrived, but times have changed, I’m getting older, and this job is harder. If it’s an ongoing client, then I ask for a check when I arrive. Most want an invoice of some sort. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complex, just make a Word doc. You can change for each job. All the basic stuff, client, date, address, contact numbers, the hiring person, the rate, time, drum circle length, and so on will suffice in most cases. Some things like public events they already have an invoice, and you fill them out. With things like working in schools you can end up doing more paperwork and time spent than you do on the actual job. But it is for kids, so it’s worth the trouble. Many of them get into music and make it a part of their lives because of you.

Because of my drum circles website, also starting around 1999, many people would ask me various questions about different aspects of drum circles. How to start one up, what to charge, ruthless competitors, dealing with djembe cowboys, all sorts of things. I offer to answer questions on my website via email, sometimes over the phone, and I still do. I mention that if you have a question, or need an opinion about anything drum circle related, I’m happy to try and help. I believe musicians and artists should help and support each other. People helped me to learn along the way coming up, so I try to give back. Many musicians feel that way, and enjoy helping others to grow so they can enjoy making music more.

I also worked as an actor in LA for 20 years, and even though we were often up for the same role, and competing against each other to put food on the table – there was still a common respect for each other. Working in various bands it was the same way, only we were competing for venues. Most drum circle facilitators are caring and good people that are more than happy to share some advice, and help someone new getting started.

But there is a flip side, and I’ve heard this over and over from many different people. I can’t understand why in almost every market in the country there seems to be a facilitator who has to be the number one go to person no matter what. What’s worse, is they put up a false front about how nice they are, all the wonderful things they do, and at the same time behind the scenes, they are trying to run the competition out of business. For about the last 5 years, the most common problem issue people from all over the country have asked me is someone trying to run them out of business. We should be working together, not against each other. There is plenty of work out there for all of us. Some of them are just plain sociopaths. Putting out negative anonymous posts on social media, stealing elements of websites, even things like “work for them, or you don’t work at all”.

I’ve had all of that just like many others, had ongoing clients poached from me by drum manufacturer backed facilitators from out of the state. They can do it by offering cut rates, the promise of a drum grant, and many other ways. That is just wrong, not much we can do about it either. Again, I’m just a person trying to put food on the table for my family.

Anyway, as it turned out, I kept getting asked a lot of the same questions over and over, I was becoming a sort of drum circle tech support. So, about 9 years later I decided to write a book about drum circles. It is 300 pages of text., and the title is A Practical Guide to Hand Drumming and Drum Circles. ($8). It’s actually more like 3 books in one. I put all my experience, everything I’ve learned and (unlearned ) in there. Everything from facilitating, learning hand drumming, facilitating styles, covering the art, and practical approaches to facilitating or hosting one.
I haven’t exactly traveled the country, but I’ve lived on both coasts, and been to 1000’s of drum circles over the years. So my pricing is based on that, and speaking with many others through my site and drum circle finder.

Some, (like myself) work on a pricing flat rate, or a sliding scale like I mentioned. Some manage with love donations, drum rental for an average of $10 - $15 per person, a percentage of sales, and various other means. And some get non profit status where they can pay themselves, some get sponsors, and/or grants. (Try your local arts counsel, or state arts funding groups. I've applied for them a number of times, but never managed to get one. But I do know that some people get them.) Most of the arts funding goes to other disciplines like painters, sculptors, dancers, and etc.

If you can get a regular ongoing gig, that generates lots of other jobs because of the constant community exposure. Event planners see you, someone wants one for a party or reception, group gathering, even session work. So a low cost weekly circle or a home base is a great way to generate work. Even if that weekly gig only pays $100 a night just barely covering expenses. It’s the onlookers and word of mouth that brings you the better paying work. As I mentioned, my average price is 2 circles for $300. I want to give them a full music making experience, and a good value for their money.

My pricing scale is pretty competitive if you figure the going rates around the country. I charge $100 for non profits, churches, senior groups, etc. They have very limited recreation budgets and most of the time, that’s all they can afford. For most public events, an all day multiple drum circle school session, a business - corporate event, I will quote from $400 to $600. If it’s more than 100 people, I hire a helper, they need to be paid, so a little more is added onto the cost.

Some can pay more, but that’s up to you to figure out. If it’s far to drive, a public event, if you need to hire a second facilitator, etc. There’s a lot of variables. Even things like if all the gear has to be hauled up a couple flights of stairs. How close can I get my vehicle to unload, and how far is it to the playing area? Can you provide a few helping hands to carry my gear? That will lower the price because that saves me a lot of energy that I’d rather put into bringing the group the best drum circle music making experience that I can. With some events like wedding receptions there is drinking involved, so you have to factor things like that into the pricing because of the potential for damage.

Facilitated drum circle rates have gone down a lot in the last 10 years. There are a lot more facilitators around now. Many facilitators sideline as drum circle facilitator trainers, so there is a lot more competition these days. Lots of drum circle certification courses are out there, and almost every one claims to be the best. Being well rounded as a musician and a facilitator is important. Lots of untrained facilitators are being given a training course and figure they are ready. It takes a bit more than that. You can learn by doing, but I’ve seen some shabby work by new facilitators that can’t even keep time on a drum. Some that run around in the center waving instructions like some sort of classroom, and some using a cowbell only. On the other hand there are some truly gifted facilitators in almost every major market, and city in the country. They tend to work in their own areas so they aren’t that well known nationwide.

Most facilitators are good people and will at least be willing to work together, or share leads. I’ve had good working arrangements where if I had a booking conflict, I would offer the job for a small amount like 10% of the job price, 20 bucks, sometimes even a drum for the lead. And it went both ways. But there are those others. Rather than perhaps collaborating, maybe working together occasionally, some of them feel they have to be the number one in their market to earn more, feed their egos, or both. And, for whatever reason many have gotten a lot more ruthless about it. I’ve experienced a lot of it myself in the last decade since all the facilitator training workshops, and certifications have been cranking out students who are untrained in the real world.

So back to drum circle rates. I used to be able to charge around $500 for a drum circle, (sometimes two). When pitching the cost to a potential client, I would mention it’s $400 for a one hour drum circle, and since all my gear is already there, for $100 more I can do another one hour – so $500 for 2 one hour circles. That was then. Now it’s more like $300. $250 for the one hour, and $50 more to add a second hour. Most of the time they will accept that extra value.

Although the numerous and documented benefits of drum circles have become more widely known and accepted – most of the people who are hiring us have never even been to a drum circle, let alone have any concept what it is really like, or what’s involved with facilitating one. It is a foreign concept. The same goes with most people who contact us to facilitate for corporate, schools, events, on and on. The second most challenging thing beyond being a good facilitator, is simply trying to explain what it is to someone like this, and why having one will benefit people. Music tracks and visual aids like photos and short videos help a lot in a drum circle pitch.

Facilitating two 60 minute circles, or a 90 minute drum circle takes the better part of a day’s work to pull off, and most people don’t realize that. My drums are expensive to buy and maintain. There’s also the loading up, transport, unload, set-up, facilitate the circle, haul it all back home, unload again, and wear and tear on my drums.

An initial typical contact call or email can go like this: “I heard you do drum circles. So you can come and do one for free, right? You will get lots of exposure.” (Umm no.) I need to politely explain to them that no, I’m sorry but I just can’t. As much as I would like to for you, this is what I do for a living, and I have to charge something for it.

Some that want a drum circle for the first time actually think drums just magically appear...and people can play them. I am not kidding. I need to explain to them all the years it took of musical training, and experience it took to be able to do this professionally. I’ve put my heart, and my entire life into doing this…it’s kind of like the amount of work and dedication it took to be a “whatever the client does for a living”. (College, working up that ladder to become where they are in the job they are in, etc. I pause there, and then we usually negotiate a price after a few more emails.)

It doesn’t always pay a lot, even if they are endorsed by a drum manufacturer, had some over hyped specific training, sponsors, and so on. $3000 worth of gear, load it all up, drive for an hour, do the circles, and you end up netting a hundred bucks. It’s like that for a lot of musicians and facilitators. It’s called paying your dues, and doing some good in your community.

However, this work is tremendously beneficial to your heart. One week it’s a sorority group, the next, an entire school of kids, 6 circles back to back in a day. A session job for active seniors, where the camera is your drum circle group and you have to imagine them, and sometimes public events. For just a one on one drumming lesson I charge $40. For an extra person, $10 more. I provide the drums.

Everything’s gotten more expensive these days, especially things like insurance. I used to have all my drums in a trailer – but, not any more the insurance is way too high. These days insurance is very hefty for a trailer so I had to downsize. My gear is expensive, and I need some form of insurance. With mine, if all my gear is inside my vehicle, it’s covered. That saves me a lot. I had to sell a lot of my larger drums, and move towards smaller ones like doumbeks, darbukas, frame drums, I have about 15 of each. I also have at least one set of congas, a few sets of bongos, a dozen assorted size djembes, and a few other larger drums to round things out. Those sound shape drums are great for facilitators to round out your kit, because 2 dozen will fit in a cloth grocery bag. (Sometimes there are more people than expected, and they make a great way to fill out the inventory if needed. Plus, they are fun to play, and lots of people love playing them.) I had to get a large vehicle, it isn’t exactly green, but I can fit enough for 100 in there. All those years of playing Tetris paid off. Who knew? So that is one way to cut a few costs.

Find a Drum Circle Venue: A Craft Brewery, Pubs, Clubs, Cafe's, & etc.

Back around 2005, I hosted this drum circle at a craft brewery every Tuesday night for 3 years. My hope was that it would become firmly established and become a fixture and continue on long after I moved out of the area. Happily, a little bit of me is still there, it still goes on to this day, some 11 years later, and that makes me very happy.

Here's a little history on the brewery circle, and some general info on drum circles at casual drinking establishments:

While living in Florida, I got the idea to start up an indoor drum circle in 2005. I was looking for an indoor venue of any kind, somewhere that was air conditioned. I liked the Saturday night drumming to the sunset at the beach, but the summers there are very hot, and the sand gets all up in your drums. Not to mention the humidity, lack of bathrooms, places to eat, chairs to sit in, and even park the car reasonably close by. It’s a long hike with the djembe, percussion bag, fluids, and a chair. Parking at the pier was $12. so few of us did that. Most musicians including myself are way too cheap to pay that much to park so we could drum for a few hours, and the nearest free parking was about 800 yards.

That’s why I tried approaching a few Recreational - Community centers, night clubs and bars repeatedly every month with the idea, but had little success. Everyone I spoke with said it would never work, and many drummers said that trying to facilitate a drum circle at a place that serves alcohol is just plain crazy.

I went to a local craft brewery now and then. I loved the vibe of the place. I noticed that Tuesday was their slowest night of the week. So to me, having a drum circle seemed like a good alternative to the Tuesday, sparsely attended chess and techno music night that was going on at the time. I play chess myself, and don’t like the distraction of techno music at the same time. I never could figure that one out. I figured this had to be my best opportunity, I just had to try and convince them we weren’t a bunch of turtle mound stomping hippies.. I dropped in one afternoon and pitched the idea to the bar manager. He was reluctant at first, but after persisting with the idea for a few months, he agreed to try it out.

The condition I negotiated was that I would receive no pay unless they turned a profit in two weeks. It was a risky venture because of the drinking, and possible damage to my drums, but it worked. Within a month, the word had spread around, the place was packed, and it was hopping beyond my wildest imagination.

Good ol’ MySpace and newsgroups were about the only means of free promotion at the time, (this was 2005, pre-Facebook & Twitter). Other than that it was mostly word of mouth, making flyers to promote it and pass out, and signs out in front of the place that I’d made from those 2 foot abandoned political signs usually left out after elections. I figured I was helping clean up the off ramps and doing the city a favor, because usually they’d sit there for weeks or sometimes even months.

I’d paint them up white on both sides, and the next day paint some dark text on them. Most would say “Drum Circle” “Bellydancers Welcome” or, “Open Drum Circle” Drums provided”. Then a pointing arrow toward the establishment at the bottom. <---- 3="" a="" after="" and="" area.="" as="" be="" being="" blend.="" by="" came="" caught="" check="" circle="" clean="" come="" could.="" curiosity="" dance="" dancers="" day="" drive="" driving="" drum="" earlier="" effective.="" effective="" entertained.="" everyone="" fact="" factor="" from="" front="" fun="" general="" get="" going="" graceful="" hand="" happened="" hard="" having="" home="" hours="" i="" in="" it="" jamming="" like="" lots="" made="" make="" many="" most="" movement="" musicians="" numerous="" of="" on="" onlookers="" out.="" out="" people="" perfect="" play="" playing.="" point="" pole="" posting="" professional="" promotional="" sale="" same="" saw="" scene.="" sign="" stop="" straight="" students="" studios="" surprisingly="" tactic.="" teachers="" telephone="" the="" their="" them="" there="" thing="" this="" thoroughly="" to="" traffic="" tried="" turned="" was="" were="" with="" work="" yard="">
My formula was similar to that of an open mic night. I invited local drummers, band members, drum makers, teachers, and instructors to come attend. In return for jamming with us, they could promote their items, shows, classes and workshops. I did the same with bellydancing studios. The key to it was making it fun, and accessible to everyone so they would want to come back. Variety was the thing. The rhythms needed to be challenging and interesting for the experienced musicians, but also not so complex that the beginners didn't feel lost.

An easy way to do that, is playing rhythms from different cultures. Uptempo Latin and African rhythms, as well as slower Native American, Bellydance, R & B Groove, and improv. That way, the variety keeps everyone wanting to come back next week. Some drum circles can fall into this pattern of playing the same default beat most of the time. That gets a little boring and frustrating for everybody.

The local drum circle took off right from the start. Like I mentioned, attracting musicians so they would come in and jam, and not charging a fee or cover at the door is what made it work. We just used the honor system to get people in. They wanted to support it and promote it, and it worked.

Most musicians don't like to pay a cover charge or a fee to get in. (Especially with drum circles.) But they will buy a beer, soda, or some food once they are in there, and network to their friends. They will support it once they are in there if it is fun. So the key is to make it fun.

It was a bit of a challenge to host an on going drum circle at a casual drinking establishment, but the vibe was always good, people had a blast, and the musicianship was even better. Three hours would go by like it was one. I noticed right away that almost all the locals would drink in moderation, so it never really became an issue. But sometimes, things do get damaged.

That circle became so popular, that musicians and onlookers came from all around Tampa, St. Pete, and even as far as Orlando just to check it out and play. We even had out of town musicians show up, usually while on vacation. Some of the other local clubs got pissed and tried to get it shut down at a city counsel meeting. They made claims that it was all riff-raff in there. Unfortunately for them a few of the board members were regulars at the circle and told them the truth. It is mostly decent professional working people from all walks of life, different backgrounds, and paths with demanding careers that just want to make music with new friends, be part of a social scene, drum out some stress and have a little fun. It was culturally diverse, and it brought our community together. How can you argue against that?

Around the country many night clubs, bars, and coffee shops are struggling to find working formulas for weeknights. Having a drum circle night quickly builds up a community around it with a loyal following that grows very quickly. The cost to do this is minimal, I've been doing this successfully for years at various venues. What's really needed is an organizer to help keep things running smoothly, and promote the drum circle. I look for a small base pay, tips, or a percentage of sales like 10%.

Because believe me, there is a lot of work involved. Also it isn't the drummers, musicians, or dancers that do the majority of buying your products. They will help support the venue and buy one or two, but it's the onlookers who are attracted and who will be buying most of the drinks and/or food. And it takes a few months to really get a drum circle community built up and established. I go into this in much more detail in my blog posts, and Kindle book about drum circles.

I’ve attended and organized drum circles for over 30 years, and facilitated them for living about 15. My general approach is treat it like a band gig. I prepare as much as I can, have a set-list of rhythms, and be ready to throw it out the minute things get going. I learned to just trust my instincts and feel how things should head, rather then forcing a protocol or next step. I found that just trusting my instinct, feeling the overall vibe, being spontaneous, organic, letting your personality out, and being honest always works.

So you have booked a venue, a café’ new age shop, a rec center or the like. Now is the most important part. Making it fun for everybody each and every week. You have to mix it up a little. Playing a variety of ethnic rhythms is the way to go. Invite others to start or facilitate a rhythm. It has to be fun in order to have legs and work. Helpful hint: stay away from sports bars!

I have 3 goals I try to achieve at every drum circle. 1 is getting them playing a warm up rhythm on a body drum, to get them out of their heads thinking – and just playing. There is a healing energy in the body after a half hour of hand drumming, and I want them to genuinely feel it in their bodies. This has a stunning effect when you demonstrate it to them. But that comes later at the end.

Almost every time there will be brand new drummers so you have to make them feel welcome, but at the same time, not bore the more experienced musicians. Most of the gigs I get are people who have never played a drum before, so I have to adjust my set list accordingly for each gig. I just want to get them playing and creating. I let people know right away “Play whenever you want…play whatever you want – just follow the beat.” The support rhythm I’m playing is just a starting point. Add your voice, and take it wherever you want. Explore the unique sounds you can make with your drum.

I generally start with very little talk and go right to playing a warm up default drum circle rhythm, boom, sh-laka, boom, sha-laka…They find a place, and go. Jam it out, 4,3,2,1, rumble and acknowledgement applause. Then take a minute to talk about hand technique, volume, and away to the next rhythm. I usually go with something Native American like heartbeat. It helps to ground that downbeat for later to come.

To introduce rhythm, I like to vocalize the 1st few measures of a rhythm as I play it. As Babatunde Olatunji, said, “If you can say it, you can play it.”. As much respect as I have for him, I use the go do pa ta method in schools, and lessons. I find that people can process the Mid-East style, or funny sayings, a little faster. Especially at a party atmosphere reception. “Yum Yum, tastes like chicken. (pause) Yum Yum, tastes like chicken”… That is always a fun rhythm.

After a few rhythms, it’s a great time to try the two people laying down in the center, 2 at a time for a few minutes each. I bring two yoga mats, (or beachtowels if the vehicle is too cram packed.) How it works is like this: About half way through the circle, I lay 2 yoga mats in the center of the circle before the next rhythm. I ask for 2 people - if they want to REALLY feel the healing power of the drum, I ask them to carefully lay down on them for a few minutes. (Starting applause for them helps.) I ask them to lay flat on them, arms to their sides, and close their eyes while we play a rhythm for a few minutes. When I offer up the idea, there are always a few takers on that one. And when they get up, the faces say it all. It’s powerful to feel the drum downbeat absorbed into your body.

Up until now, everything is headed toward my 2nd goal, guiding the group toward it’s musical synergy. I’m working toward a group dynamic that forms, and everyone can feel it. I’m like a tourguide – I’m going to go with them to all these different places and cultures, and I’m going to experience it with them. I’m a firm believer that I play a drum the entire time. I want that connection. After the group dynamic is formed I can back down a bit. But the fact is, that sometimes on gigs you end up “pulling the cart” for the 1st half hour, sometimes longer, so you have to be able to have good time, and be able to hold a good down beat.

Generally speaking, if it sounds good, it feels good. Once you have that group dynamic going you have them eating out of your hands, no matter how inebriated they may be. Make it fun, try those inexpensive belly dance wrap skirts. I bring 2. Ask who wants to try it? It gets everyone laughing when the guys get in there. I sometimes bring hula hoops also. It depends on the location and vibe of the reception. Get a few of those going around the perimeter, and it ramps up the fun.

When time’s up, ask them if they want to do one more. (hopefully an enthusiastic YES! And do one uptempo.) Then comes goal 3 the real eye opener. “Feel the healing energy of the drum, in your hands and bodies”.

This is the one where at the end of the drum circle, I ask them to all stand up still in a circle, and hold their palms open and outstretched, opposite to each person next to them, and palms opposite facing each other,. Hold your palms outstretched directly above each other’s palms, about 12 inches apart. Now slowly compress your hands to the other person without actually touching them to about an inch. Slowly compress your hands up and down slowly a few times and feel that energy. The oh’s and ah’s as they feel it compress – they are feeling their chi, or mojo in their bodies (some for the very 1st time). This is very powerful. Next, turn their hands into themselves, to let the healing power reach inward, into your bodies. Start from your head, and work it down slowly. This is incredibly powerful when you feel it for the first time. This whole process takes about 3 – 5 minutes. It leaves a lasting impression.

That’s why I try to get everyone to drum, on a real drum for at least a half an hour. To get this energy of the drum flowing in them. All you have to do then, is demonstrate it to them at the end of the circle.

I do keep a drum circle treasure chest off to the side with tambourines, shakers, maracas, etc. to entice the shy to play. Later when they see how much fun playing a drum looks, they get in there. As much as I like Sound Shapes for rounding out my kit, you can’t get the healing energy in your soul playing one. Sorry Remo, I love you and all. Most of my djembe drums are drunk-resistant thanks to you, PVC LP's, Pearl, Toca’s, aluminum doumbeks, congas, and bongos.

I much prefer the organic full rich sound of goatskin heads, but for facilitating this kind of job, only drums that can take a little abuse. Bongos have cowhide heads and can take a lot of pounding. Things do get dropped and/or broken, so I add in a little “inebriation damage fee” into my price quote.

It’s surprising the amount of engagement everyone has at a drum circle, and how much they truly appreciate and love drumming – especially with family members. Their expressions and smiles will be permanently etched on your face. Later at night when I get home and unload – have time to reflect – it affects me deeply.

Ultimately, I just get rhythms started and let people play. It’s a drum circle for heaven’s sake, not rocket science. It doesn’t have to be all complicated and full of protocols, games pie slicing, and activities. Drum up some fun playing rhythms from around the world. Let your personality out, and with your calm and reassuring manner, watch the volume, and they will quickly enjoy playing together, connect with you, and end up experiencing the healing energy of the drum. Many people take up drumming after a single drum circle and it becomes a part of their lives forever. A place to go when things are down, or even looking up. It’s especially great for the kids. Many go on to join school band.

My 300 page book, “A Practical Guide to Hand Drumming and Drum Circles” is $8 on Kindle or Nook. Please visit the main site for more info. My 2 hour DVD “101 Drum Circle Rhythms” is also on Amazon. It is the perfect tool to help keep a drum circle fresh and interesting week after week.

Check out my drum circle finder that I mentioned, where you can locate drum circles near you in your state. It’s been online since 1999, there's over 1000 listed, and still growing. Also a global drum circle finder. The listings are updated monthly. If you get one going, let me know and I will add it to the database. Just visit my site: - I also have sample set list you can download and use.

I hope some of this article is helpful to you, and it gives you a few ideas if you plan on working as a drum circle facilitator, and an idea what to charge for your services. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions, based on my own experiences, and from speaking with many others around the country. My advice? Don’t stick with just one approach. Study with as many different facilitators as you can. If the cost is an issue, attend their events and watch what works, and what does not. Most do public events you can attend a few times a year. Participate, and observe them. You learn different things from each one. Use all methodologies, approaches, styles, and be well rounded. Some are in it for the love, and some are in it for the money. It's easy to spot the difference. Just be you.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

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